As a child, I didn’t understand what all the rejection of a typical life was all about. Raised in an isolated household where my childhood worldview was shaped by an active Reader’s Digest subscription and a well-stocked library, I was exposed from an early age to the belief that getting a job out of college and staying static until you retire at 60 was the worst that could happen—that the last thing you want is to wake up an elderly person and realize you did nothing with your life. That, however, I never comprehended to the degree I should have. Surely, after all, there are more people who never do anything revolutionary with their lives than those who do. We can’t all be pioneers. We can’t all make a difference. We can’t all live fulfilling lives by the end of which we won’t regret a thing. That’s impossible.
The reassuring part is that it’s impossible for majority of the population.
There was never a time I wasn’t aware of my insignificance. I didn’t acknowledge this with any particular bitterness, nor any desire to change it. I used to feel comforted by that insignificance, even—by sixteen years old, on the verge of realizations I would take another four to five years to accept, it was comforting on a subconscious level that despite all the things that marginalizes me from the rest of society, I am like them and they are like me in how none of us matter, really, in the grand scheme of things. My certainty in that kind of thinking has probably not helped my already debilitated sense of self-value, but it has also allowed me to be content with the little things in life. Knowing that it’s unlikely I’ll ever amount to the kind of stuff legends are made of has allowed me to cope with what I believe are my great failures; somehow, these same failures are seen as above average when placed relative to the path most other people follow. I wasn’t great, not really, but as long as I kept my life on track and hovered just the tiniest bit above mediocre, I was good enough. Passable by standards that exclude the gifted and the lucky and the born privileged. And in a life where anything more than this will always be beyond reach, it’s all I can ask for. All I can ever find it in me to work for. Like a Ghibli movie, placing such importance on small chores and baby steps, except without the rose-coloured lens and the idealistic ambition.
Life is innately designed to suck for most people. This is a fact. But when you remove the pressure of doing more than the day-to-day work of living, which is in itself too much for me most of the time, it’s less necessary to zero in on what I’m not doing compared to my peers, on the things I’m not successful at and probably won’t ever be. Small comforts, if you will, acting as a balm to small sufferings. A cycle of constant trade upon which my worldview rests.
I don’t think my life is worth much, either. This is another bare fact. I’d always been sure that I would sacrifice my life for someone else’s when given the choice; not particularly out of any sort of extreme selflessness, but that it honestly does not matter. I’m here because I’m here. If something happens and I no longer needed to be here, even without active effort on my part, I would take that chance in a heartbeat—especially if it means someone else gets to live more and go about living their best life like they do on those Reader’s Digest issues. Life is like a prison sentence, only I committed no crime except being born, which is infinitely sadder when I think about how little of a say I got in that part. I’m here to live out my life sentence, and if it happens to be cut shorter, then I’ll take it. It’s a bleak, empty life full of the same ins-and-outs anyway, such is the truth of the matter, and to want any more than that, I always believed, is to set myself up for disappointment. That’s one thing I can trust myself to do: anticipate letdowns.
Now, however, the idea of dying without leaving a mark on anyone that really, truly cares—and the very inevitability of this—keeps me up at night.
It’s the comments on my writing. I blame them wholeheartedly. They’ve deluded me into thinking my stories could be worth more, could be worth anything but the brief enjoyment that my fanfiction brings to its niche readers. I get comments—long ones, sweet ones, heartbreaking ones in that they’re so earnest, so poignant, so personal—talking about how I’ve improved someone’s day, about how I’ve made someone reevaluate an aspect of their life may that be love or friendship or family, about how I gave a voice to a problem someone is going through. And on those moments, no matter how I feel about the work in question, I think to myself: did my writing really do that?
At sixteen, I finished my first full story. I deleted it two years later, because it was written with values I no longer felt were representative of who I am, only to be met with e-mails and countless Tumblr messages citing how much the work meant to them, how much it helped them through their own battles with mental health, how much it allowed them to look at life through a different lens. I eventually republished it on a different platform, and received a fresh new batch of the same sort of responses. As much as I still reject the teen autobiographical angst given life in that story, it's overwhelmingly moving that a story like that can be important to actual human beings with their own lives.
In times like that, in all the times it still keeps happening, it becomes impossible instead to think of any of it as insignificant. It feels incredibly significant to be able to do that for someone. It makes my writing feel significant. It makes me feel significant. And then it’s like; “Oh. Oh, oh, oh, so this is the meaning those Reader’s Digest people spend their whole lives chasing.”
It’s difficult, too, to not be swept away in that rush when I’m exposed to so many historymakers constantly. An example, for one, is Voltron’s Shiro being confirmed queer at the Season 7 Premiere two days ago. While there are details to nitpick about how this representation ultimately came to be if one really wanted to (I don’t, not quite yet, not for something as epoch-making as this), and while I acknowledge that Shiro is not reflective of my experience the way it is more so for many others (as in this beautiful article), it’s another win for the gays I’m more than happy to celebrate with warmth and maybe a little bit of dazed disbelief. Coupled with shows like She-Ra and The Dragon Prince revealing they have queer representation before they are even released, it feels like I’m witnessing a zeitgeist in its early stages.
Another example, one much closer to myself, is Rebecca Sugar coming out as non-binary. I’m as late to Steven Universe as I was to Voltron, only previously gravitating in moments where my brother brings certain songs to me, or in revolutionary scenes as in the Ruby/Sapphire proposal and wedding earlier this month, but when my article recommendations brought this headline to me, I was—for several long minutes—shaken. It took me hours to go through all the different variations on the same report without feeling peeled to skin and bones, and even longer to read they appear to be female, but they’re a little more representative of nonbinary women without feeling laid bare in the best way possible. That shit resonated like nothing else has ever resonated before. An unbelievable luxury, when since I was seventeen I hadn’t much allowed myself to think of “non-binary” as a label I can claim past confiding in a couple of friends that I was more comfortable with they/them pronouns. It was a word for androgynous white people with short haircuts and thrifted clothes and Kankens. It wasn’t for me, chubby and brown and occasionally okay with wearing obviously feminine clothes despite not always being comfortable with hearing she/her pronouns.
My previous entry on seeing myself represented onscreen already took apart my resignation about it—but hearing Rebecca Sugar articulate being non-binary, for their own self, but definitely, definitely, definitely for me, too, is the closest I’ve come to really seeing myself. Not the helplessness I felt watching Rosa Diaz’s coming-out arc knowing I’ll never have the courage to say Jake’s speech, not the desperation I feel for a potential bisexual Lance on Voltron even now, even with the likelihood of that lessened to impossibility, nor the sincere but fleeting moment of recognition when David Alleyne said; “I’m bi. Never said that out loud.” Rebecca Sugar’s statement was the first time I felt that something can be mine. And god, is this how non-minorities feel all the time?
I am so grateful to be this old at this time, despite all the crap going on in the world, witnessing history be changed in a way that would have a direct positive effect on the following generations. Grateful—but wistful as well. There is a part near the end of John Boyne’s The Heart’s Invisible Furies where its narrator, a gay man born in Ireland of the 50s, spends some rueful introspection ruminating on the fact that he was not born decades later—that he is not able to grow up in an Ireland of the 21st century, in an Ireland that has legalized same-sex marriage, that he had to grapple with parts of his identity purely because he was born in the time that he was, unmoored with nothing to guide him through understanding himself. I feel that way, just a little bit, about all the LGBTQ representation coming in now; wistful, because there are many things you can’t undo about the years I spent as unmoored about my identity as the narrator of Heart’s Invisible Furies was, yet grateful that there are generations of children that might just grow up never having to yearn for pieces of themselves in media the way my peers and I have and still do.
But more than either of these feelings, I want to bottle up the precious emotion Rebecca Sugar allowed me to feel and be able to turn it into something I can give someone. Many other someones. It’s reminiscent of how I feel about characters I think are representative of myself; comfort characters, I believe, is what kids nowadays call them. To be able to deliver that comfort, to be a source of good for someone else the way nothing quite was for me until this moment—I want that. I really, really want that. I want to keep creating work that means something. Something hopeful. Something that would encourage people to think that the world might not be entirely bad, that there are happy endings and visibility for us, even if the fight there is taking a while. Even if it is a fight. It’s a fight I want to be part of, a fight I want to dedicate my life and my work to. I’ll do whatever it takes / I’ll make a million mistakes / I’ll make the world safe and sound for you, as Dear Theodosia would put it.
Yet with that comes the fear of believing I might never get to the same point Rebecca Sugar and Noelle Stevenson have gotten to. I’m so, so afraid I’ll never be good enough to get there. Even more terrifying is that this is the first time I’ve felt my life have purpose—that is the first time I wanted my life to have significance, if only for the sake of giving someone else hope. To keep doing the kind of work that elicits those comments people leave on my fics? To live the rest of my life knowing that I made some people happy, that I helped, if even a little, to make the world safe and sound? I want that. I want to be good enough for that. I want to be significant, make something significant, to get to that point.
But was I not for all my life aware that this is a rarity? That most people spend their lives not being significant? That this is a fact? That to hope to be more is to set myself up for disappointment? That most people wait until their 30s for results, and to ask for anything at 21 is an impossibility I don’t have enough privilege nor talent to entertain?
That, truly, is what’s keeping me up at night: that I suddenly have all this want to be more in me, more than what I know to do with, but would never be able to shed the mediocrity of my life and my self. Though I have taken steps upon steps to act on being more, I might still be rejected, that all the manuscripts I put myself into may amount to nothing, that my failures will all just be reaffirmed. A scenario many others go through, a system I shouldn’t expect to be an exception to, but a reality that hits me nonetheless with quadruple the force when it’s dark and the demons are prowling around in my head.
Whenever I allow myself to dwell on the worst case scenarios, my ego and sense of joie de vivre as frustratingly fragile as they are, I often think I’d rather have stayed content being insignificant, stayed living on the fringes of my own life. I’m not a strong, gifted person. I’m only acceptably above average as a student. That’s all I know to do. My love for writing and the things I can do with it are the only exceptions. I don’t know what I’d do when even that ends up being fruitless and mediocre. Getting to 21-years-old already feels like it’s been such a journey. I don’t know what I’ll have left, without writing and with all the rest of my 20s floating on with the same lack of meaning that my teenage years passed by with instead.
I’m scared of wanting to be significant when all I know to trust is my own insignificance, is the point I’m trying to make with all this. It’s frightening.